And all of a sudden, I cannot smell anything
March 21, 2020 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I seem to have lost my sense of smell. Truly low on the totem pole of problems right now, but damned annoying nonetheless. Anyway to get it back?

I first noticed it about five days ago and it has been persistent ever since. I am not able to smell my perfume, onions, etc. even when I hold them right up under my nose and take a deep whiff. I definitely have congestion but I can breathe fine through my nostrils and am not sneezing or even producing anything out of my nose. I can tell I am congested because my ears are super clogged. I am using a Netipot to clean things out but so far, smell is still eluding me.

What do I do?
posted by tafetta, darling! to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You'll need to confirm this with a test, of course, but loss of sense of smell might be a symptom of COVID.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:34 PM on March 21 [36 favorites]

I’d call your doctor’s office and/or see if you can do a telemedicine visit.

This happened to my uncle and it turned out to be one of the first symptoms of a benign tumor pressing on his brain (a meningioma - which actually wasn’t found until years after he lost his sense of smell). I bet that’s an unusual reason for a loss of the ability to smell, and I wouldn’t worry at this point, but def worth checking in with your doctor - I’m sure that if the doctor thinks it’s fine to wait, they’ll have you wait.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:47 PM on March 21 [5 favorites]

iirc some decongestant nasal sprays can cause anosmia, have you used any?
posted by poffin boffin at 6:49 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]

I once had temporary anosmia from a neti pot. It went away in about a week. But I agree with the other comments; talk with a professional.
posted by blob at 6:58 PM on March 21

Zinc (found in Cold Eeze and similar) can also effect your sense of smell.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:00 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]

Agreed with the first answer that while we don't have a lot of great info about covid symptoms, there is a suggestion from at least one study that anosmia (loss of sense of smell) is a somewhat common symptom among mild cases. If you are in an area of community spread, that suggests it may be particularly important for you to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the infection. (And frankly everyone should be doing that anyway, but maybe this is more motivation to take it seriously.)
posted by iminurmefi at 7:21 PM on March 21

I would call someone, as sudden loss of smell can also be a symptom of brain damage, which could be a tumor, stroke or other vascular issue, or some other thing that is worrisome. Even if you are prone to migraine or other neurological transient events, five days is a long time.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:42 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]

I, someone who has a long history of chronic sinusitis, had this happen once when I had an acute sinus infection, and yes it was disconcerting. However, it was lasted no more than a few days for me. If I recall correctly (as this was a long time ago), eating very spicy foods to get things flowing again helped.
posted by Sock, Sock, Sock, Sock, Sock, Goose! at 8:05 PM on March 21

Have you recently taken anti-depressants? My sense of smell was damaged during a course of Celexa. It took about a year for it to return after I stopped taking the drug (for other reasons)...Seconding others’ suggestions to see a doctor in any case.
posted by cartoonella at 8:12 PM on March 21

Please boil the water for your neti for at least 10 minutes if you're using tap water, otherwise you may get a nasty infection that can go to your brain.
posted by kate4914 at 8:19 PM on March 21

To answer a few questions, I have no fever, digestive issues, or other symptoms of COVID or known exposure. We are isolating anyway and I am working exclusively from home.

I started using the Neti pot - with bottled water because we had the brain amoeba in South Louisiana - after I lost my sense of smell. I haven't been taking Zinc.

The day I started experiencing loss of smell I did go up in my prescription Prozac from 60 to 80 mg per the direction of my medical psychologist. I sent her an email tonight to see if she could think of any correlation.

I'm going to try my prescription nasal spray before bed and see if that helps. Thanks to all!
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:24 PM on March 21

How I Brought My Nose Back to Life (Stephanie Feuer, Narratively)
Several people reported success with smell training. I was intrigued. Training worked for me at the gym, and I knew nose training worked for perfumers, wine experts and even dogs. This rehabilitative version was devised by Professor Thomas Hummel of Dresden University. In 2009 he tested the twice daily sniffing of each of four essential oils: lemon, rose, eucalyptus and clove. For 30 percent of the subjects, 12 weeks of this regimen improved their olfactory function.

I discovered the site, founded by recovered anosmic Chris Kelly, who developed her own protocol for smell training. She offers basic instructions as well as guided Skype sessions, and even sells smell-training kits.

But I didn’t want to wait for a kit to ship. I dug up a pad of watercolor paper left over from my days of printing Polaroid transfers. I found the high-quality essential oils at a Wicca shop in the East Village, where I waited while a woman selected herbs and sage to snuff out a bad love.

I unscrewed the cap of the amber glass vial and let a few thick drops of rose oil bleed on to the strip of creamy white watercolor paper, forming a party-dress-pink stain.

There is a proper way to sniff — measured, deliberate, no urgent draws of breath. Our sense of smell is dependent on the first smell signals the olfactory receptors detect. The power of the top note. I brought the oil-soaked paper up to my nose. I breathed in and hoped to be lifted from the bleak, flat reality of my odorless world.

[...] My ability to detect flavor improved after a few months of smell training. Soon I could detect the odor of all the essential oils, but not smells in the wild. That is, until one otherwise forgettable dinner with friends. In a bright flash of pleasure, I squeezed a lemon on my fish … and I smelled it.
And fwiw, the removal of my benign meningioma also took most of my olfactory nerve, but my sense of smell still worked before it was discovered. Personally, I still wear essential oils and regularly check to see if my direct sense of smell has returned, and I appreciate this article's encouragement to just keep sniffing.
posted by katra at 8:29 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]

I had a really bad two weeks of migraines in Jan and lost my sense of smell. It's slowly recovered a bit but I used to be able to smell fairly well. The highs, no cat litter smell! The lows, not being able to sniff my children's heads and drinking spoilt milk by accident. It also mutes your sense of taste - you can't do subtle flavour and things taste way more bland. My doctor just shrugged and said it was a weird symptom but not to worry.

Ask other people to sniff you before you meet people and routinely apply deodorant. You will have no idea how you smell.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:24 PM on March 21

I had a really bad two weeks of migraines in Jan and lost my sense of smell.

You should get that checked out. That's not normal for a migraine.
posted by fshgrl at 10:00 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]

I lost my sense of smell for about 2 weeks when I had a bad cold a couple of years ago. I was able to breathe through my nose after using nose spray, but couldn't smell anything at all. My sense of smell came back a few days after the cold was gone.
posted by CompanionCube at 10:56 PM on March 21

Loss of the sense of smell was also the first sign of my sister’s benign brain tumor. She didn’t get it checked out and only found it two years later due to increasing vision impairment. Agreeing with the previous poster that this is probably rare, but that you should one hundred percent figure this out. If nothing else works, and no other causes are discovered, please get an mri.
posted by sumiami at 11:41 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]

See an ENT. It may be nasal polyps, which are benign and can be removed. I've had anosmia because of these several times. They can sometimes see low hanging polyps with a handheld penlight type scope, or they may want to look farther in the nasal cavity with an endoscope. Both can be done in office during a regular exam.

They can also be shrunk with either systemic or local steroids, which would restore your sense of smell without a surgery, which may be difficult to get during the coronavirus pandemic.
posted by condour75 at 6:55 AM on March 22

ENTs are reporting that anosmia is commonly found in COVID-19 patients who have no other symptoms.

Relatedy, two ENTs in the UK are reportedly hospitalised with severe COVID-19 infections themselves.
posted by quacks like a duck at 8:00 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]

How are you doing?
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]

Loss of sense of smell is one of the early symptoms of Parkinson's disease. It seems you have a lot of conditions to rule out...
posted by klanawa at 2:24 AM on March 24

Yes, how are you doing?
posted by Jubey at 2:52 PM on March 28

16 days in and still nothing.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 3:23 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]

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